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Why Interlaken should be on your Swiss itinerary

by Roberto
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Interlaken was the final stop on our whirlwind tour of Switzerland. Set between two of the most magnificent lakes I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, Interlaken is a hub for people looking to explore those, and venture into the Jungfrau area beyond.

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Interlaken was where we first intended to base ourselves in Switzerland. A tourist town now of a few centuries, it lies between two incredible lakes, and takes its name form that fact. While it may have drawn my attention at first, Grindelwald soon consumed it, and then became the focus of our trip. However I couldn’t neglect the area that enticed me first, so we deliberated to spend a night here, as well as some time in the area en route to the Alps.

Our journey to Interlaken began on the second day of our trip as we left Bern. En route we would pass the twin lakes of the Thunersee and the Brienzersee. Lake Thun and Lake Brienz as I will from now refer to them (so much easier to spell) are astounding to see. The two lakes and this area of the Bernese Oberland are the main areas we covered in the Interlaken phase of our vacation. This are my suggestions on how to make the most of a stay in Interlaken.

Interlaken Points of Interest

The town of interlaken didn’t astound me as Grindelwald, Wengen and Lauterbrunnen did, but its not without merit. Its a bigger town owing to its location and prestige, and therefore has more options for dining and accomodation. The city was the site of great development around the 1900’s which saw a series of high class hotels been built. The development has continued since, and the town has lost some of its Swiss authenticity.

But not all. Interlaken is divided by the beautiful River Aare, which wowed me in Bern, and the area across the river is the oldest and the most quaint. Its enjoyable for a stroll, and there’s also the opportunity to visit the Tourismuseum, which seemed a little pointless to me. Instead I sought out some of the very interesting houses and mansions.

  • Interlaken
  • interlaken

  • Interlaken
  • Interlaken
  • Interlaken

The other half of Interlaken centres on the Hohematte park, a large green area with views towards the mountains, which is surrounded by many of the top hotels. It’s a great place to watch paragliders as they swoop in to land, and in addition not a bad place for an interesting sunset either.

  • Interlaken
  • Interlaken

Stay at the perfect Interlaken hotel

We had no intention of staying at the five star Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa. We had always intended to keep our accomodation costs within reason, and Interlakens five stars certainly were not encompassed by this. Good fortune came in the form of a Dublin work colleague who got us a Leading Hotels of the World staff rate, which therefore knocked about 50% off the room rate. This good fortune doubled when we arrived at the hotel, and were offered an upgrade to a Garden Suite. The 65 meter squared suite would not normally return change out of a €1000, so needless to say we were ecstatic. It easily ranked as the top hotel we have yet stayed at on our travels.

Even without the deal of the century, the Victoria Jungfrau Hotel is highly recomended if you are looking for a little Swiss indulgence. From the first stroll down the columned lobby, it exudes style and class. Its many bars and restaurants have features which would not be out of place in palaces. Chandaliers, statues, stain glass windows and frescoed ceilings were everywhere. The winding stairs was one particular highlight of mine.

Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, interlaken
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken

Top class luxury in Interlaken

Of course a hotel is only as good as its bedrooms, and when you get a suite you aren’t going to be disappointed. The room was exquisite with more features than a merc and toiletries than a pharmacy. The huge balcony overlooking the pool and mountains was the icing on top.

  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken

The hotel had the rare effect of curtailing my exploring plans for the day, (an extraordinary achievement in itself) and when my eyes were set on the pool, they were firmly lost. But a day spent soaking in the sauna, while the sun shines on your face isn’t really lost is it.

Victoria Jungfrau Hotel Interlaken
The pool and jacuzzis were most certainly 5 star

The breakfast the next morning was also the most complete spread of food I’ve ever seen at that time of day, with almost every ethnicity catered for. One more star over here please.

Eat Swiss Fondue at an Interlaken Restaurant

However it was our hunger on the previous night that got us back out into the town. Interlaken has quite a good range of options for dining, but we had only one thing on our minds. We had planned that this was where we would have Cheese Fondue, and after an online search, Restaurant Taverne was the winner of our custom. We were winners too. The restaurant had some interesting decor and was busy, so we struggled to get a table. Generally a good indicator of the food. Which was awesome. Free hors d’oeuvres, a delicious main course of ravioli, and the fondue was to die for. So rich and creamy. I can see what all the fuss is about.

Cheese Fondue, Interlaken
a pot of complete deliciousness
  • Taverne interlaken
  • Taverne, Interlaken
  • Taverne, Interlaken
  • Taverne, Interlaken

Take the train to Harder Klum, the top of Interlaken

With our hunger having pulled us from our lazed state, the attractions of Interlaken were once again on my mind. Harder Klum is known as the top of Interlaken and is reached by a funicular scaling the mountain side. At 1300 metres above sea level, it provides panoramic views of Lake Thun and Brienz as well as Interlaken. It’s also said to have some of the best sunsets in the area, and with trains running until after 9pm, it seemed like the perfect way to round off our evening. Our plan was dashed though, as a thunderstorm warning was in effect. Standing on a steel platform overlooking a lake is not where I want to be as the sky plays fireworks.

Not to be undone, the next morning after breakfast I set out alone for Harder Klum. I misjudged the distance to the train station and practically had to run a four minute mile just to make it. It made for a sweaty train trip up the mountain.

The train trip up costs Fr 28 or around €25 return, and actually represents decent value by Swiss standards. The journey up takes around ten minutes, with the funicular running every thirty minutes.

Harder Klum, Interlaken
Funicular to Harder Klum

Top of Harder Klum

Once you reach the top, you are met by the glorious views down below. Columbine flowers line the wooden fences of the pathway. A short walk takes you to the Panorama Restaurant (where I certainly didn’t go after my breakfast), and more interestingly the Two Lakes Bridge. Needless to say this is where the best views are of the two lakes below. Its a stunning vista and one of the more beautiful places I visited in Switzerland.

Harder Klum, Interlaken
The Panorama Restaurant – any guesses how it got its name?
Harder Klum, Interlaken
Two Lakes Bridge-no need to be original when it all looks this good
  • Harder Klum, Interlaken
  • Harder Klum, Interlaken
  • Harder Klum, Interlaken

Day trips from Interlaken

A popular option to explore the Thun and Brienz lakes is by boat. If I had taken the popular advice and travelled by train, and purchased the Swiss Travel Pass then I would have done the same. Boats sail from Interlaken and stop at many of the towns and attractions along the way. For the best boats tours check out Get Your Guide. However as I’m ever the roadtripper, we set out to circumnavigate the lakes by road. Its highly recomended, with stunning views, and my ever preferred ability to stop at where you want along the way.

Giessbachfalle

The Giessbach Falls are one of the most impressive waterfalls in Switzerland, falling some 500 metres down into the lake below. This was to be our only major stop on Lake Brienz. However it nearly wasn’t, if GPS had its way; in the middle of a quite long tunnel, our tempermental friend encouraged us to take a non-existent turn off to reach them. The tunnel only ended a few kilometres later, at which point it recomended a u-turn. On the motorway. I advise you to ignore it completely, take the first left after the tunnel, and then the small road that runs above it. Signs for the waterfalls will lead the way. We were relieved to find the car park though. Remember to pay the Fr5 fee before heading off on foot. If you take the boat, a funicular will take you up to the Geissbach Falls.

  • Giessbach Falls, Switzerland
  • Giessbach Falls, Switzerlan

It is advisable to wear waterproof clothing and hiking boots as the spray is quite strong. the terrain and steps are also on the rough side. Its also advisable to take it so you don’t have to run back to the car. The undoubted highlight of the falls is found higher up the path, where there is an opportunity to walk behind them. It’s such a fantastic experience and a reminder of all the best adventure movies from my childhood. There are no lost worlds to be found though, only great memories. Amazingly the area behind them is completely dry. The sun shining meant that the waterfall was crowned by little rainbows, for the perfect finish.

Giessbach Falls
From behind the waterfall looking down on the Giessbach hotel and Lake Brienz

Have cake and coffee at the Giessbach Hotel

After a good hike and all that waterfall excitement, the GrandHotel Giessbach was perfectly located to chill out and enjoy the surroundings. Its elevated position above Lake Brienz is stunning and its worth have a snoop inside to see it’s rather grande decor. A stay here would be something I would happily consider on another visit. As it was today we settled for a cappuccino and apple tart, and a table on the balcony overlooking perfection. It was all rather reasonably priced too at Fr23, an added unexpected pleasure.

GrandHotel Giessbach
GrandHotel Giessbach
Lake Brienz, Interlaken
Views over the tranquil Lake Brienz
GrandHotel Giessbach
Most days are better with pie

Drive around Lake Brienz

We continued our drive around Lake Brienz, through the town of Brienz itself. Its another of the many attractive towns within the country. With more time we would love to have stopped and taken the train up to the Brienzer Rothorn, but we had reached our train up to a viewpoint quota for that day. GPS encouraged us to take the motorway on the south of the lake back to Interlaken, but I was delighted I ignored it, as the north route was quiet and had extraordinary views over the lake.

Looking back at the town of Brienz over the lake

Lake Thun

Lake Thun has more attractions than its compatriot, and the route along the north hugs the cliffs for much of the way. The drive takes you through tunnels and cut outs, and glimpses of the tantalising turquoise waters of the lake.

St Beatus Caves

St Beatus Caves are one of those two for the price of one attractions. Not only do you get caves, but you also get waterfalls that come streaming down the side of mountain. At Fr18 per person they are some expensive caves, but with the history and mythology attached to them, simply unmissable.

The lower part of the area, is a calming area of rock ponds, before you make the climb past the waterfalls. It is quite the climb up and definitely only for those with good mobility. But look at the views of the lake below.

Lake Thun, Interlaken
The turquoise Lake Thun
  • St Beatus Caves
  • St Beatus Caves

The waterfall is truly impressive. But it doesn’t stop at just its looks. These particular falls provided inspiration to a particular J.R.R. Tolkien, who visited when young. From there the idea for Rivendell in Lord of the Rings was born. How awesome is that.

  • St Beatus Caves
  • St Beatus Caves

The Cave

With so much excitement already the caves were still yet to come. I made the rookie mistake of wearing shorts and a t-shirt in. I’ve never been in a cave that was warm and this was no exception either. So I froze my ass off for the 1 kilometre walk each way through the caves. There were many beautiful formation throughout the cave, but I am a little of the opinion that once you see one cave, you’ve seen them all. The naming of the cave was perhaps as interesting for me as anything, it takes its name from an Irish monk (go on the Irish) who entered the cave to slay a monster which inhabited it’s dark recesses. I can confirm that the monster no longer haunts these parts.

  • St Beatus Caves
  • St Beatus Caves
  • St Beatus Caves

The hills beyond the caves have great hiking and one route leads directly to Interlaken.

Oberhofen

I couldn’t go on a trip and pass by a castle without stopping in. But Oberhofen is no ordinary castle. Perched on the edge of Lake Thun, it’s location is simply spectacular. Surrounded by a lush green park and floral gardens on one side, the other side is a harbour on Lake Thun. Little boats bob up and down and the harbour is lined by palm trees and red roses. Yes its perfection. And that’s before we get to the castle.

Oberhofen Castle
The castle viewed from the dock

Oberhofen Castle

Oberhofen Castle dates originally from around 1200. It was built as a moated castle at that time and its image drastically differed from what it does now. Passing through the hands of the Habsburgs in the 14th century, its eventually found its way to be part of the expanding canton of Bern. Renovations from the 17th century meant that only the original keep was retained, before private ownership in the 19th saw a full scale rebuilding in the romantic style.

How romantic it looks now. The water tower with its pointed turret is the castles calling card. It reaches out into lake Thun, and is undoubtedly is its most photographed feature. But the whole building is immense, and surely Switzerland’s most impressive castle.

  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle

Oberhofen Castle
The inner keep, the only surviving part of the original castle

The castle is worth touring the inside too. It is now part of the Historical Museum of Bern, and priced at FR10, a visit easily within any budget. The rooms are well furnished and there’s quite a few rooms, all exhibiting life in the castle as it was in the 19th century, post renovation. There is fun to be had too, one room has a variety of hats to try one, for those who are happy to poke fun at themselves. Count me in.

  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle

  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle

Turkish Smoking Room

My advice within, is to keep climbing those stairs. Many visitors seemed to leave without reaching the library and the Turkish smoking room in particular. This was constructed in 1855 by Count Albert de Pourtales, who had spent time as a Prussian ambassador, and had been influenced by the stylings seen in Cairo. The influences are easily seen, the room is lavish and colourful, and a complete departure from all else in Oberhofen Castle. It was easily worth the admission price alone.

  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle
  • Oberhofen Castle

Thun

The town of Thun is one of those places which we only give a few hours, but would happily have spent a few days. A populace town, it has a dynamic atmosphere, set against some wonderful Swiss architecture. Some of the side streets however are a complete contrast and one wonders if they are in a ghost town. It’s a place both for introverts and extroverts. The town centre is further enhanced by buildings such as the Rathaus and the Kornhaus, and by the towns location on the River Aare. Keep an eye out for the old wooden bridges spanning the river. Another attractive facet of the town are its benches, each one unique and painted or designed in a specific way.

Thun, Switzerland
Some of the quiet streets of Thun
Thun Switzerland
Thun’s central square
Thun Switzerland
Thun’s elegant Kornhaus
  • Thun benches
  • Thun benches
  • Thun benches
  • Thun benches
  • Thun benches
  • Thun benches

Thun Switzerland
Overlooking the River Aare

Thun Castle

Why would I only visit one castle when I can visit two. We parked at Parkhaus City Ost Schlossberg, which is an ideal car park to access most of the town. We took the lift from here down to the town, followed by an unusual tunnel reminiscent to “walking into the light” took us to Obere Hauptgasse. However from here a long stairway led to the castle and its location above the town. After huffing and puffing to the top, I found the same lift which I had earlier taken down. Another reason why that car park is so handy.

Thun Switzerland
Endless steps
Thun Castle
The Keep of Thun Castle

The castle has an entry fee of Swiss Fr10. Before you head in exploring have a walk around its ramparts, the views of the town are worthwhile and the castle is an interesting one. Thun Castle, and the current keep from the photo above, was constructed in the 12th century by the Duke of Zahringen. It then fell into the hands of the House of Kyburg, and its most infamous moment saw Eberhard II van Kyburg murder his brother for control. For two centuries they ruled, before the castle was bought by Bern. They at this point added the added the impressive wooden roof, circa 1430. After centuries as a prison and a local court, the castle now only serves as a museum.

Thun Castle Interior

My visit to Thun Castle started with a bang. Literally. While walking away from the desk and surveying the map I had taken, I went straight into a glass door. I was fine but the receptionist was very concerned. In keeping with my usual style, I casually made a joke about it and ran away. The castle interior is not particularly entertaining, with the exhibits being a little average. But much like in Oberhofen, its value lies in its top floors. Survey the mastery of that roof, and then take a step out on the turret facing east. The view left me speechless, stretching across the town, Lake Thun and to the Alps beyond. The singing of birds and the bells ringing in Thun Church, ensured I was dumbfounded.

Amazing views from the turrets- turn on the sound
Thun castle
Still capture from Thun Castle

Thun Church

I couldn’t bypass Stadkirche Thun having surveyed it from above. Constructed in 1330, the tower dates from then. The arched entrance is decorated with paintings from 1430, and is probably its highlight. The nave and altar were a little bland for me, having seen so many finely decorated churches throughout Europe, but one is free to walk around.

Thun Switzerland
Old town Church

Conclusion on Interlaken

Interlaken, and the twin lakes of Thun and Brienz, are the gateway to the Alpine region of Jungfrau. Some skip their charms, but I advise to take time to discover this fascinating part of Switzerland en route.

For more on that region, I encourage you to check out my blogs, Why you must visit Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, and Grindelwald, The Perfect Swiss Alps Base in Summer.

Please like, comment or share if you liked this blog. Happy travelling.

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